Honeywell class action offers glimpse of Madison-Cook County strategy

Steve Korris Mar. 12, 2007, 4:40am

When the Lakin Law Firm and Chicago class action attorneys teamed up more than seven years ago, they devised a novel strategy for forum shopping.

The Lakin firm copied a Cook County class action against Honeywell Inc., and filed it with different plaintiffs as a class action in Madison County.

The Cook County suit had moved too slowly for plaintiff attorneys, but in Madison County the carbon copy suit of the Lakin firm advanced swiftly.

The strategy, however, did not pan out. The Illinois Supreme Court transferred the Lakin suit to Cook County for consolidation with the older suit.

The case of the carbon copy offers a glimpse of the high hopes behind a 1999 agreement between the Lakin firm and Chicago attorneys.

The partnership worked beautifully for years, but now the attorneys fight over what remains of the mountain of litigation they piled up in Madison County.

Some of the Chicago attorneys have sued the Lakin firm in Cook County, claiming the Lakin firm did not honor their agreement.

The Chicago attorneys claim Lakin attorneys settled class actions without consulting them ahead of time or paying them their share afterwards.

At first the partnership looked so sweet.

The Chicago attorneys would provide experience where the Lakin firm lacked it.

The Lakin firm would pull plaintiffs from a well, and it would guarantee access to a congenial court.

The Lakin firm promptly launched a class action blitz.

On Jan. 11, 2000, Brad Lakin sued Honeywell on behalf of Gloria Wendle of Jersey County and Jerald Kobler of Williamson County.

Lakin claimed Honeywell deceived and misled buyers about the efficacy of air purifiers.

He wrote that Wendle bought a purifier in Madison County and Kobler bought one in Perry County.

The complaint carried the names of attorneys Paul Weiss, Eric Freed and Philip Bock of Chicago.

The suit was assigned to Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis.

Honeywell moved to dismiss, arguing that a proposed class action over Honeywell air purifiers was pending in Cook County.

A Cook County judge had already consolidated two class action claims into one. Different attorneys had filed those suits.

Honeywell attorney William Manning of Minneapolis wrote that Weiss and Freed represented a Cook County plaintiff as well as the Lakin plaintiffs.

Manning wrote, "This Court should not become a vehicle to be used by plaintiffs' counsel to supplant other plaintiffs' counsel to position for attorneys' fees."

In June 2000, Kardis denied the motion to dismiss.

For Honeywell, Thomas Keegan of Chicago appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. He argued that the first suit should take precedence.

He wrote, "The plaintiffs can offer no reason why this action was initiated in Madison County, a county where not even the named plaintiffs reside, except the new forum is perceived as more favorable to them."

The response of the plaintiffs came not from Lakin but from Freed. He argued that the Madison County suit had progressed further than the Cook County suit.

Moving with unusual speed, the Illinois Supreme Court allowed Honeywell's motion in August 2000.

Kardis removed the Lakin suit from his docket and closed the case, but he never got around to dismissing it.

After Kardis retired, Circuit Judge Don Weber signed an order dismissing it.

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